SLAYTON - The community of Slayton was in the spotlight this weekend during the first showing of a documentary featuring the town and several of its main street businesses. An audience of local residents and businesspeople gathered in the Murray County Central High School auditorium on Sunday afternoon to watch the premiere.
"It's really a documentary about the community," said Judy Thommes, manager of communications and marketing at the Center for Energy and Environment, a Minnesota nonprofit promoting energy efficiency. But one facet of the community - recent efforts to install more energy-efficient lighting in Slayton businesses - inspired the film. The documentary, produced by filmmaker Cary Strandjord, is about 30 minutes long and features before-and-after interviews with business owners having their lighting updated.
"What started as a simple attempt to improve energy efficiency in our town and save money for its residents and business owners has grown in a direction none of us ever expected," said Slayton Mayor Miron Carney, speaking to an audience of Slayton area residents and business owners.
Carney said Slayton's lighting project had its origins several years ago, when he and former Slayton city administrator Cathy Magnus attended a session on energy efficiency during the League of Minnesota Cities annual conference. The seminar focused on energy investments that would show savings right away, instead of years after the fact. That led to a city energy audit, and to putting in more efficient lights in city buildings like the fire hall, city hall and senior center, using rebate programs available through Xcel Energy.
The next step came in 2011, when special state legislation allowed the creation of one-time-only grants using funds from retiring Tax Increment Financing districts. Carney said the Slayton EDA had about $45,000 available for grants, and energy efficiency projects were a common request among grant applicants. With help from the Southwest Regional Development Commission and CEE, 11 local businesses were selected to be retrofitted with brighter, more efficient T8 fluorescent lights. CEE also commissioned Strandjord to document the project.
Chuck Skalak, owner of Skalak Outdoors in Slayton, said the difference the new lights made for his shop was dramatic. About halfway through the change, he said, "I looked at half the shop and you could see (the old lights) actually looked kind of yellow."
Skalak said participating in the CEE program was also a good deal for the business. Between the EDA's grants and Xcel rebates, he only had to pay for about 10 percent of the replacement costs, he said.
Stan Van Iperen, the owner of VIP Floral, said the new lights were also a benefit to his business. Getting rid of shadows in the work area makes it easier for employees to design floral arrangements, and good lighting is crucial for making attractive displays.
"It's nice. We had decent lighting before, but this has really enhanced it," Van Iperen said.
The documentary will be shown in other Minnesota communities to demonstrate CEE's One-Stop Efficiency Shop, the program that helped with Slayton's lighting project, said Jamie Fitzke, a CEE consultant who did the energy audits for Slayton's lighting project.
"It's been great working with the businesses here. They've really embraced it," Fitzke said.